First winter free fishing weekend set for Jan. 19 - 20
The beauty of ice fishing is that it can be a solitary, serene experience done alone on a turned-over pail, with a friend or family member in a pop-up shelter, or a social gathering in a fully equipped ice fishing house.
With temperatures again seasonable and ice solid, we’d like to share this Wisconsin Northwoods tradition with you, or help you introduce it to, or mentor someone new.
Wisconsin’s first winter Free Fishing Weekend is set for this weekend, Jan. 19 and 20. Residents and nonresidents alike can fish anywhere in Wisconsin - for free. No licenses or trout stamps are needed. This includes all inland waters and Wisconsin’s side of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River.
We have long had a Free Fishing Weekend during the open water season on the first Saturday and Sunday in June. Act 168, a law passed last year aimed at boosting participation in fishing, hunting and other traditional outdoor recreation, established the winter Free Fishing Weekend.
If you haven’t tried ice fishing, we encourage you to do so to find out why interest in winter fishing is growing. About 110,000 more Wisconsin adults ages 16 and over reported ice fishing in 2010 than the previous decade. That’s an estimated 590,700 Wisconsinites, according to the most recent National Survey on Recreation and the Environment, ages 16 and over enjoying the hard-water season.
OK, so you are not an expert. And you don’t have equipment to take advantage of the Free Fishing Weekend. We’ll do our best to help you out.
I’d be happy to give you my tips, but you might benefit from some of the DNR’s go-to guys when it comes to angling know how.
You can get expert advice on winter angling from veteran managers Terry Margenau, Skip Sommerfeldt and Kurt Welke. The trio offer their tips for fishing for northern pike, walleye and panfish, respectively, on the ice fishing pages of the DNR website.
Sommerfeldt, who has three daughters, provides excellent tips for making ice fishing fun for the whole family.
Three Northwoods DNR tackle loaner sites have ice fishing tip-ups and jigging rods available for people to borrow. People will need to use their own ice auger, take over an abandoned hole or ask the angler fishing near you on the ice to drill a hole or let you borrow their auger.
There is no charge to borrow the equipment - just enjoy the day fishing in Wisconsin and return the equipment in the condition you found it in so the next person can enjoy it.
More information about the tackle loaner program and the contact information is available on the DNR website as well as on the map linked to above.
In the Northern Region, there are three loaner sites:
n•DNR Service Center, 10220 North State Highway 27, Hayward. Or call Russ Warwick, 715-634-9658 ext.3508.
n•Council Grounds State Park, N1895 Council Grounds Dr., Merrill. Or call Dawn Bishop, 715-536-8773.
n•DNR Service Center/UW-Extension Building, 5631 Forestry Dr., Florence. Or call Greg Matzke at 715-528-4400, ext. 122, or Meg Dallapiazza 715-528-5490, ext. 1147.
Please note, however, that during Free Fishing Weekend, rules governing the number and size of fish anglers can keep are still in place, as are fishing season dates. Go to DNR’s online fishing regulations to look up the rules for inland lakes.
And if you plan on fishing lakes within state parks you will need to purchase a state parks vehicle pass.
We can’t promise that you will catch fish, but I’m pretty optimistic that you will be having a fish fry, which is just as good as catching a trophy fish for those of us that prize the experience on the ice and back home.
Get back outside this weekend. Bundle up. Stay warm. Be safe. See what you’ve been missing; introduce the next generation to ice fishing and memory making opportunities.
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